Mohamed Fahmy trial concerns raised by Canada, Stephen Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper defends his government's silence on the case of a Canadian journalist jailed in Egypt, saying Canada has expressed concerns about the process and verdict of an Egyptian court on Mohamed Fahmy.

Prime Minister Harper says Egyptian authorities 'very aware' of Canadian government position

Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, left, producer Baher Mohamed, centre, and correspondent Peter Greste, right, appear in the courtroom along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges in Cairo on March 31. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now breaking his silence on the way Fahmy was treated. (Associated Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is breaking his silence and defending his government's work on the case of a Canadian journalist jailed in Egypt, saying Egyptian authorities "are very aware" of the "deep concerns" Canada has about the process.

Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen and journalist for Al-Jazeera, was sentenced Tuesday to seven years on terrorism-related charges.

The government has been criticized for not taking a tougher stance on the case.

Asked by reporters in Quebec why the Canadian government hasn't intervened more strongly, Harper said Ottawa has provided consular services to Fahmy as best it can under the circumstances. It's sometimes difficult to provide consular services to dual citizens because many countries don't recognize more than one citizenship.

"We have been very clear on our concerns, deep concerns, about not just the verdict but about this process from the beginning," Harper said.

"We have expressed those to the authorities. We have attempted and have provided, and have attempted to provide, consular service wherever possible. Obviously there are some difficult circumstances here, but the Egyptian authorities are very aware of the position of the government of Canada and we will continue to press that position going forward."

'Fundamental values'

Fahmy was tried and sentenced with an Australian journalist. That led Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to call on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to proclaim the Australian journalist innocent.

British and American officials have also spoken out against the process.

A former Canadian ambassador to Egypt says he's immensely worried both about where Egypt is heading and where Canada's foreign policy is going.

"Today it is totally, totally driven by the concern for instability in the region, and a lot of the lofty principles about foreign policy have been put aside," Ferry de Kerckhove said in an interview Tuesday with Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

De Kerckhove was Canada's ambassador to Egypt from 2009 to 2011. He says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's foreign minister, have a very good relationship, but that Canada doesn't want to "rock the boat of stability that is happening in Egypt."

The Australians, British and Americans, who have been much more public about their concerns, he said, "still think that freedom of the press is a higher value to defend and are absolutely upset at what is going on. And I think our government puts the security of Israel ahead of some of the fundamental values that they pretend to be fostering."

'Bullhorn diplomacy'

Baird visited Egypt in April and set out the diplomatic challenge, the Toronto Star reported. 

"If I’m loud and vocal and use a bullhorn, I’m accused of bullhorn diplomacy. If I try to work quietly and directly, it’s not enough," Baird said on April 17.

"If someone is before the courts in Canada, I’m not able to order their release," he said, adding that Egypt's foreign minister had assured him the trial would be a "fair, open, transparent, expeditious process."

Baird repeated that concern in an interview Tuesday with an Ottawa radio station and added that if he takes a concern directly to a country's leadership, he's accused of not standing up, CTV News reported.

A big part of international diplomacy is done behind closed doors, making it hard to know exactly how much is happening behind the scenes. 

Fahmy's brother, Adel, praised the Canadian government the day the verdict was returned.

"The foreign affairs minister and the Canadian Embassy have done a great job. I have to admit that. We give credit where it is due," he told CBC News Network's Heather Hiscox.

"But I don't know. There should have been a higher-up pressure. There should have been more urgent pressure. Maybe they reacted too late … and the problem is now that this is the result, and I don't know how it can be resolved or reversed."


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